HIST 140 The State Framers’ Debates on Religion: The Utah Constitution

In this course, you will explore the events leading up to the Utah state constitutional convention of 1895 and discover the Utah state constitution’s provisions about religion. Learn why the federal Bill of Rights did not apply to Utah, resulting in the state having its own Free Exercise and Establishment clauses. You will end by applying the 3Rs Framework of Rights, Responsibility, and Respect to your community today.

Article I §4 of the Utah State Constitution (1895) states,

“The rights of conscience shall never be infringed. The State shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office of public trust or for any vote at any election; nor shall any person be incompetent as a witness or juror on account of religious belief or the absence thereof. There shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions. No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or for the support of any ecclesiastical establishment.”

How did this become the law concerning religion in the state of Utah? How did the delegates’ decisions to the Utah constitutional convention influence protections of the rights of conscience today? How did these legal protections lead to a religiously diverse contemporary society? This course will explore these questions and more.

The State Framers’ Debates on Religion in Utah is an online module designed for high schoolers (grades 9–12) and college students. It can also be used in physical classrooms, emphasizing the civil dialogue modeled by the founding statesmen as they debated and proposed changes to the text of what ultimately became the Utah State Constitution. The course relies on historical debates in the Utah Constitutional Convention of 1895 and digitized archives from the Quill Project at the University of Oxford and the Utah State Archives and Records Service. 

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1791 Delegates • The Foundation for Religious Literacy

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Civic Education for a Common Good

We apply the U.S. Department of Education’s Consensus Statements about Constitutional Approaches for Teaching about Religion

▸ Our approach to religion is academic, not devotional;
▸ We strive for student awareness of religions, but do not press for student acceptance of any religion;
▸ We sponsor the study about religion, not the practice of religion;
▸ We expose students to a diversity of religious views, but may not impose any particular view;
▸ We educate about all religions, we do not promote or denigrate any religion;
▸ We inform students about religious beliefs and practices, it does not seek to conform students to any particular belief or practice.

We apply the American Academy of Religion’s “Religious Literacy Guidelines”

▸ “Religious Literacy Guidelines for College Students.” American Academy of Religion, 2019.
▸ “Teaching About Religion: AAR Guidelines for K-12 Public Schools.” American Academy of Religion, April 2010.

We apply the National Council for the Social Studies C3 Frameworks for Religious Studies

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, “Religious Studies Companion Document for the C3 Framework.” Silver Spring, MD: National Council for the Social Studies, 2017.

We also apply the following Utah State Learning Standards

U.S. Government and Citizenship, Standard 2.1 (High School): Students will use historic and modern case studies, including Supreme Court cases, amendment initiatives, and legislation to trace the application of civil liberties, civil rights, and responsibilities spelled out in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other amendments.

U.S. History II, Standard 7.5 (High School): Students will use evidence to demonstrate how technological developments (such as television and social media), government policies (such as Supreme Court decisions), trends (such as rock ‘n’ roll or environmental conservation), and/or demographic changes (such as the growth of suburbs and modern immigration) have influenced American culture.